§ 4.32 p.m.
§ Lord Taylor of Gryfe
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. While I speak from these Benches, I should emphasise that this is a Private Member's Bill and does not represent any party commitment so far as the Social Democratic Party is concerned. It is a Bill to prohibit professional boxing, and I suppose that the first question that will be asked is why I should revive this debate which seemed to die with the passing of the late Lady Summerskill.
What stimulated my interest in this matter was the report I read a year ago of a young Welshman who died in a Los Angeles hospital of respiratory complications due to a prolonged coma. He never regained consciousness after being knocked out 26 days earlier. Johnny Owen had fought for a world title and to earn enough money for his working-class family to buy a pub in Merthyr Tydfil. As he was carried comatosed from the ring on that night the fans of his opponent cheered and shouted obscenities. A few weeks later a likeable West Indian from London's East End—Maurice Hope—lay on the canvas unconscious for almost 10 minutes, his body shaking in convulsive shudders. Thousands who witnessed this sad sight whistled their approval and support—support for a "victory"—while millions watched it on television.
I know that it will be said that those two events took place outside of the United Kingdom, but it is the route that British boxers must take in order to attain fame or a European championship or a world championship. It was those events that sent me searching through the records of this House to find the details of the last debate on a Boxing Bill. It was, of course—and perhaps this is in the memory of some Members of this House who are present today—introduced by Lady Summerskill. Some may remember her: she was a very courageous and formidable lady who made a great contribution to the deliberations of the House of Lords during her presence here. I am proud to carry on, albeit inadequately, the mission which she initiated at that time, for everything that she said on 10th May 1962 has been borne out by the passing of time. On that day there was a Division in the House. There voted: Contents, 22, and Not-Contents, 29. I am hoping today that there will be an even more generous response and support for this Bill.
I confine my justification for the Bill to three basic propositions. First, I believe that the perpetration of violence is evil and anything which encourages it or glorifies it damages the fabric of a civilised society. Secondly, I believe that boxing frequently results in brain damage and sometimes in death. Thirdly, I believe that we have no moral justification for organising for profit a public spectacle in which the main object of the spectacle is for one human being to knock another human being unconscious.
With regard to the first of those propositions, this House has frequently expressed concern about the 876 extension of violence in our community. I am not suggesting that boxing alone is responsible for the growth of violence but it does nothing to diminish it. We are all convinced that frequent exposure to the sight of men inflicting injury on others is harmful and degrading, and so we complain and we try in legislation affecting television, for example, to limit these things, sometimes unsuccessfully, so far as our television companies—BBC and ITV—are concerned. But boxing apparently escapes from those constraints. The sight of two superbly trained athletes fighting in a ring, each seeking to knock the other unconscious can now be brought into our homes regularly at peak-viewing times. The hero is the man who achieves this in the most devastating manner. In my view, this glamourises violence and reduces our sensitivity to violence.
The second proposition concerns the physical damage which results from boxing. Ingemar Johansson, the former heavyweight champion of the world, in whose native Sweden boxing is now banned, happened to be in London last month and commenting on boxing today he said:With fighters getting faster and stronger, maybe they will now be able to kill with one punch".Some Members of the House were present on the occasion of the last debate on this subject and may recall Lady Summerskill's references to a quotation from Billy Walker. He was the blonde bomber from West Ham. He was the great white hope of the time, a heavyweight with a punch. He had just won a gold medal, I believe, at the Olympics, and turned professional. This is what he said on turning professional:I'm no longer a sportsman. How can you call professional boxing a sport, with all the villains and rogues who are part and parcel of the game? It's a business. A hard business all the time, a cruel business some of the time. I've no illusions about the noble art of self-defence or any of that kid stuff. That's all right for the amateurs. But from now I'm paid to hurt. The more I hurt, the more I'm paid".I was in the Library yesterday and I picked out from one of the newspapers there a report of a fight that had taken place in Wembley Stadium the night before. It was headed "Bloodbath". The report simply stated:Tony Sibson retained European middleweight title at Wembley last night with a breathtaking, awe-inspiring display of primeval savagery".I believe that that fight was projected in the sports programme of the BBC last night.
The medical evidence in this matter is overwhelming. Professor Corsellis who published The Aftermath of Boxing in 1973, carried out a retrospective study on the lives of 15 boxers and concluded that many "had ended up in psychiatric hospitals". He further reported that the examination revealed serious and often horrendous destruction of cerebral tissue in most of the 15 cases. The noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, who unfortunately had to leave the Chamber for another meeting, told me of his experience as a medical man and of the research that is carried out in Manchester University, where apparently they do their best to retain the brains and the skulls of boxers over the years, and they carry out examinations on the consequences of boxing on their brains. According to the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, this is totally consistent with the findings of Professor Corsellis, 877 to which I have referred. He goes on to say that there is now solid foundation for the view that some experienced boxers develop a clinical disorder, the greater part of which has a neuro-pathological basis; the severity of the condition varies greatly, ranging from a mild clumsiness of speech and movement, with or without memory loss. I am sure that we are all familiar with boxers being interviewed who have shown evidence of these results. Incidentally, I notice that Mohammed Ali is no longer as fluent as he once was.
Next to serious brain damage, eye damage is the greatest indictment of boxing. The detached retina and other serious eye injuries have left many boxers blind or with sight seriously impaired. Recently the British lightweight boxer, Dave Williams, was operated on for a detached retina. Maurice Hope, who took such a serious beating a few months ago, only last year had his eyesight saved by the technological miracle of laser beam surgery carried out by the eye specialists at Moorfields. I am sure that the eye specialists at Moorfields would have something to say about the number of cases in which they have been involved where there have been similar casualities.
I recall another of our heroes, another winner of a gold medal. The last gold medal won by a British boxer at the Olympics was won by a man called Chris Finnegan. Where is Chris Finnegan now? I will tell you. He is almost blind. Following a detached retina, he lost the sight of his right eye and his left eye is now deteriorating badly. To compound Finnegan's problems, he is now unemployed and reputedly broke.
Such extremes of fortunes are by no means rare in this game. Among the boxing fraternity there is an adage: First the timing goes; then the legs; then the money; and then the friends. That is certainly the history of many of the people who have sought, through boxing, to achieve an easy way to riches. For working-class boys from the East End of Glasgow, London, Liverpool and Belfast it offered the illusion of a quick way of escaping from poverty. Where are the heroes of the past? Did they escape? How many made it? Today it is the turn of the impoverished blacks to provide this entertainment for those who can afford to watch them.
This House has frequently shown its concern for the sanctity of human life, and I hope that there is agreement that it should never deliberately be put at risk. Yet 335 deaths have occurred since the war as a result of injuries sustained in the ring. We in this House have supported legislation designed to avoid pain and suffering. We have in a number of cases been prepared to limit the freedom of the individual if the interests of society as a whole are adjudged to be paramount.
I know it will be said in this debate, "If people want to box, let them", and "If people want to go and watch it, let them". The same argument might have been adduced when we banned cockfighting. I am sure that there were people who wanted to watch it and who would provide the animals, but we decided that it was a degrading spectacle to see animals suffering for the enjoyment of spectators and for the benefit of bookmakers. Is it any less degrading and 878 any less brutalising in its effect to witness and hear the commentator at the ringside say:He has a cut over his right eye and this will be the target. There is blood coming from the other and his opponent can now go in and finish him. His corner has done a wonderful job on his cut face and he is coming up for more. He is still standing and is being hit savagely about the head"?Of course, the referees have duties to intervene at some stage, but only after a great deal of damage has been done.
I live in the West of Scotland and I know a number of boxers. One of the nicest young men I have ever met is Jim Watt, who recently lost his world lightweight title and who is being tempted to enter the ring again. I hope that that decent young man will not change his mind. Here is a description of his last fight, which was published in the Scottish Sunday newspaper, the Sunday Standard. It said:Jim Watt lost honourably at a cruel cost to his body. There was no sanctuary and only an hour of continuous pain was inflicted on this proud Scot whose purse … now in the stillness of the arena, seems almost a miserly obscenity for the wounds he endured but from which he would not run away.Out of this fight will come much admiration from all those who saw a champion lose like a champion to the better man. By the end his face was a grizzly tattoo of scars, his jaw swollen, his mouth and nose awash with blood, his eyes staring blindly through the cuts and bruises which encircled his eyes so angrily".The fight went a full 15 rounds and at the end this decent young man said:I didn't quit. I gave what I had but it was an uphill struggle throughout and I hope no one was ashamed of me".That bloody spectacle took place in an English ring at Wembley and was witnessed by millions on their television screens. If such violence were to take place outside the ring, we would demand immediate police intervention. Yet in a ring, and organised for profit, it is encouraged. I do not believe that that is the mark of a civilised society.
Of course it will be said in this debate that rugby football is often violent, and mountaineering is dangerous, but in both cases violence is not the object of the sport. In rugby football, violence is punished—although sometimes I feel that the Welsh have not heard of that—but nevertheless violence in rugby football is punished by the referee.
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, that cannot be true. A strong tackle in rugby football is violent, and it is not punished if it is a legitimate tackle.
§ Lord Taylor of Gryfe
My Lords, it is punishable. There are certain rules in rugby football which are designed to prevent the inflicting of injury by one man on another. That is the distinction between rugby football and boxing. In mountaineering, steps are taken to minimise the risks to human life.
I hope that there will be no opposition to this Bill on account of the details contained in the Bill. I believe that the strongest argument in favour of the Bill is a moral argument. I believe that we have no moral justification for organising this kind of spectacle. As a Christian, I believe that our bodies and our brains and our intellect are God-given to use in God's service, and I believe that, to the extent that we inflict punishment on these bodies and these faculties, and impair these faculties, we are doing something that is not consistent with Christian conduct.
879 Therefore, my Lords, I hope that there will be no Division on the basis of the details. These can be discussed at Committee stage. The Bill is aimed at the prohibition of professional boxing organised for profit as we know it, and the decision should be made on that principle. The Bill will not prohibit boxing in schools, or amateur three-round contests. Why? Because statistics demonstrate that the damage done by these events is very limited compared to the professional game. I believe that the so-called noble art has no place in a good society. It is degrading and it encourages the wrong motives. The spectacle at Wembley of the last Alan Minter fight is a justification for that claim.
There are greater evils in our society, but there are some laws which we have passed, and some gestures which we observe—for example, the abolition of capital punishment—which in themselves are not significant in their total impact yet which occasionally make us proud, for they mark adherence to more civilised standards. I believe that the abolition of professional boxing would be one such gesture. Norway and Sweden have already taken this course, and I ask your Lordships to follow that lead, and beg to move that this Bill be given a Second Reading.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Taylor of Gryfe.)
§ 4.54 p.m.
My Lords, I believe that your Lordships should be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, for the obvious sincerity with which he has used this Bill as a vehicle to demonstrate his personal indignation at a spectacle which horrifies him. But, with the greatest respect to him, I put to him three simple points. Nobody ever forced anyone to box. Nobody ever forced the noble Lord, or any noble Lord, to watch boxing if it offends them. In addition, has he ever investigated the lengths to which the British Boxing Board of Control go before issuing licences and before renewing licences? The position today is very different from what it was between the wars, and indeed from what it was even 15 years ago. At this very moment, the British Boxing Board of Control is fighting hard to obtain an international standard with regard to licensing, and, indeed, to bring in the thumbless glove. The noble Lord referred in detail to the serious injuries that can obtain as a result of the thumb on the glove.
Notwithstanding those points, I sincerely believe that this Bill is a joyless, politically naive, miserable little measure which is devoid of any merit whatsoever. The major reason why this is so is that, if this Bill were to proceed further, it would bring this noble House into serious disrepute. As your Lordships are well aware, at the present time in history there is a strong movement against paternalism in politics: a movement away from Government decree on how people should best run their lives. This Bill, I suggest, is a classic example of the "nanny" approach by Parliament; an example of the well-intentioned eroding the freedom of the individual to live and to learn from life, and enjoy all that life has to offer.
I cannot believe that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, really understands what the effect of this 880 measure would be. Other than making this noble House a laughing stock in the eyes of the people for whom we presume to legislate, it will break one of the glasses through which our young men learn, for professional boxing is the base upon which all amateur boxing depends. It is the expression of the highest skills in an ancient sport. Prize-fighting, as your Lordships are aware, goes back to Graeco-Roman days. It is a far older institution even than the SDP!
The real value of professional boxing lies in the fact that it encourages the grass-roots efforts in the amateur field. If professional boxing were to be proscribed, which would be the effect of this Bill, amateur boxing would die, and this I believe would be a tragedy. The owlish academics so often forget the young. They forget the fact of the nature of the beast, man; they forget that little boys love, literally love, to fight. All the lessons of life in fighting, and indeed in not fighting, can be learnt to great effect in the ring, and indeed from the youngest age.
I believe that I speak from a certain position of strength, for I fought as an amateur from the age of eight until nearly 19. My first lesson in the ring was at that very age of eight, and it was this: if you are locked in a corral with someone who is determined to do you injury, it concentrates the mind wonderfully. The second lesson is to get to your opponent before he gets to you. This lesson is important, because not only do you learn but your opponent learns. He learns the measure of himself.
The first fight I fought was purely so that the gym master of my preparatory school could learn who had any particular aptitude, or indeed taste, for this particular endeavour. Whether it was his acknowledgment of the virtue of the alphabet, or whether he had a sense of humour, he happened to put me in the ring with my twin brother, who happened to be a head shorter than I was. One thing I did know was that it was vitally important to get to him beforehand, because, when I made it absolutely plain to him that I was looking forward to knocking seven bells out of him, it put him off the subject very quickly indeed.
He learned, as everybody knew, not so much that he was physically incompetent but that he was physically incoherent, and that he infinitely preferred the more leisurely pursuits of the academic world, like scripture and geography. It is in this particular demonstration to the very young—I do not mean just at eight but right the way through one's school years—that boxing has its immense value. It teaches you never—that it is a disaster—to lose your temper, that there can be great nobility in losing, that fear lies in the heart and mind and that skill will always beat might. Noble Lords need not take my word for it; the lessons are contained in the literature of boxing. Rather like cricket, though to nothing like the same extent, boxing has a very rich literature. It is one of the few sports that has moved men to write of it like angels. It is a classic demonstration of men, their heroes and the games they play.
I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, has ever visited any of the clubs affiliated to the London Federation of Boys' Clubs, and whether he has ever spoken to the young men who box and has asked them the simple question, "What has boxing given you?" In their own individual ways, those who indulge in this 881 sport always come up with the same answer, "Boxing has given me so much". When asked in what way, they invariably reply, "It has taught me so much of myself and of other men".
Many noble Lords will recall their own experience of bespectacled swots at school who brought self-respect and the admiration of their fellows upon themselves as a result of their ability and courage in the ring, despite their incompetence in team and individual ball sports, which of course require a different type of skill. Does the noble Lord really wish to throw away a great and ancient learning process?
Any who might have even for a moment considered flirting with that political virgin the SDP must have had their ardour cruelly cooled by this tawdry Bill. The SDP, coyly hiding, as well they might, behind their ugly acronim, might claim no authorship. However, they cannot escape the scandal of the company they keep. At best, the Bill shows a low taste in bedside reading. At worst, the SDP cannot deny that they are in bed with the author. I humbly suggest that your Lordships should, not for the first time, demonstrate your eminent commonsense by allowing this tawdry little Bill to proceed no further, to save this noble House from falling into disrepute and to state loudly and clearly in the Lobby that this measure is nothing other than a governessy irrelevance and a waste of valuable parliamentary time.
§ 5.3 p.m.
Lord Belhaven and Stenton
My Lords, I do not intend to follow my noble friend Lord Morris in referring to this as a tawdry little Bill; that is not really the way to refer to any Bill which the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, has in good faith brought before your Lordships' House. Before leaving my noble friend's speech, I would tell him that I was forced to box as a boy, and certainly that used to happen in schools. I was not directly forced, but I was in the sense that my courage was challenged by an older boy. I went into the ring and boxed and, thank God, I was bad at it. That is not to say that had I been good at it I would have finished up punch-drunk, because with my background, I would not have been drawn into professional boxing, and I remind the House that the Bill is about professional, not amateur, boxing. Amateur boxing would still be legal and in my view it should remain legal because, however stupid it may be, the citizen should be allowed to do what he likes.
In 1970 I raised this matter in the House in the form of an Unstarred Question, which was answered for the Government by my noble friend Lord Aberdare, who gave me a courteous "No". Since then, so far as I am aware, this subject has not been raised in your Lordships' House and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, for his courage in bringing it up. I hope he sticks to the subject, but not with the same total enthusiasm as the late Lady Summerskill, whose passing we all lament; she was a little too enthusiastic about the subject, including when I asked my Question in 1970, because she wanted to abolish amateur boxing as well.
As for professional boxing, my feeling is that the human body was not made to be a punch-bag. That is certainly so of the human brain. It is an abuse of the creation of God continually to pummel the brain 882 until, if it goes on long enough, a man becomes an idiot. I am not against manly and dangerous sports, not even the most dangerous of them—mountaineering, rugger or what have you—because if a man conies out at the end of it he is usually perfectly sane, able to think and follow an avocation. He is not made into a fool.
I have seen people who are punch-drunk and I know what it does to them. They do not know they are punch-drunk and they think they are all right, but if you know their history and the fights they have had, the reason is clear. I spoke to one chap who told me he had been in 50 fights, and he was against professional boxing because of his experience in it. He talked to me about punch-drunk people without realising that he himself was punch-drunk, but I realised that.
Young men who get drawn into this game are the finest and bravest of our youngsters and it is quite wrong that they should be drawn by sleazy commercial interests into losing their intelligence, sometimes the use of their eyes, heart and any other sort of damage. Imagine going 15 three-minute rounds! I did some Army and school boxing. That was three three-minute rounds and that was tough enough. To ask a man to go 15 rounds is, in my view, absolutely monstrous. At least we might reduce the number of rounds, even if we do not make boxing illegal.
My only doubts about the Bill are my natural distrust of legislation. I have often thought that both Houses might profitably take a five-year holiday and pass no legislation at all. But the subject before us is not often raised in either House. Again I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, for raising it, and if he presses it to a Division, I shall support him.
§ 5.8 p.m.
§ Lord Nunburnholme
My Lords, perhaps I should begin by declaring a slight interest in that I too have put gloves on and gone into the ring, but that was many years ago. Perhaps it would be a good idea when regarding the Bill if we retained a sense of balance, proportion and logic and looked at the legal aspects a little more closely. The Bill refers to any person who organises boxing for profit. I do not know the legal definition of "profit", but the dictionary says it means "for gain". If a charity organises, say, a dinner at the National Sporting Club or the Grosvenor House and two professional boxers agree to give an exhibition bout in aid of the charity, it is undoubtedly being run for profit. Would that be illegal? Personally, I think it might not be legal. There is also the question of whether or not it affects amateurs, because the word "profit" does not necessarily mean monetary gain. It means gain, something to your benefit, and perhaps "benefit and gain" could include not only a cup or a shield, but also the prestige that you bring to your school when one school is boxing against another, or if there are two institutions boxing against each other.
I have seen many amateur fights and it is certainly true that on most occasions young boys, 15 or under, do not punch hard enough to inflict any great damage on each other. But when one school boxes against another there might be one young man of 17 rising 18 who is a very, very fine boxer indeed and has a tremend 883 punch, who is up against another young boy of 16 who, although a good boxer, is immature for his age and can easily be put on the floor.
One of the things that causes brain damage is not necessarily the punch itself but the fact that the boxer goes over backwards and is in either an unconscious or semi-conscious state and the back of his head hits the floor. In many amateur boxing rings the floors are not properly padded—they are almost bare boards. Ask any old professional boxer about this and he will say, "As I went over it was my head that hit the ground, and that put me out". Very often that is what does the damage.
Perhaps amateur boxing for any form of profit, not necessarily money—the Bill just says "profit"—may be illegal; I do not know. All I suggest to your Lordships is that if anybody makes a profit out of this it will be the lawyers. I think that they are going to have a field day over this Bill because of the way that it is worded.
There is one other small matter that I should like to draw to your Lordships' attention; that is, that if this Bill goes through it will put a lot of people out of work. I suggest to your Lordships that we have enough unemployment as it is. What may very easily happen as a result of this Bill is that the young fighters that we have, instead of fighting in this country will train in this country but fight abroad.
There is an element of risk and danger in every sport. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, has referred greatly and at length to brain damage. As I say, I am no lawyer; but there is a legal expression, volenti non fit injuria, which simply means the willing party accepts the risk. We have something called free will. There is an element of risk in many activities, as the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, said, such as rugger. Many rugger players are carried off the field unconscious and it has not been unknown for a rugger player to receive a blow or a kick at the beginning of a game, play the whole game, come off and remember nothing about it from then onwards. In fact, he has been semi-conscious or concussed throughout the game. This is brain damage.
Riding is exactly the same. If you fall from a horse, the blow, the hard object, is not propelled towards you: you fall off the horse, down towards it. The result is the same. If we are going to ban boxing, should we not logically ban any sport such as rugger or riding? Very often at a race meeting the ground or the going is described officially as "soft". But if you ask any jockey that day who has had a fall he will tell you that the ground was very hard. I am sure that many of your Lordships will agree with me that as you get older the ground gets harder. But we do not have to go hunting. Lord Birkenhead once said he was finished with hunting. He said: "Henceforth this furry animal may proceed upon its way unmolested by me." In other words, volenti non fit injuria.
Car racing is a very dangerous sport. Many people have been killed, not only drivers but the public. There is the classic example of free will. Mr. Jackie Stewart put it in good parliamentary language and has made it perfectly clear that in no circumstances and under no inducement of any monetary gain whatsoever 884 will he return to the sport. He has made known his own free will.
Many times we have heard in this House, particularly from the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, about the evils of the atom bomb. Gunpowder has killed millions of people. We can only roughly estimate the number in millions. We do not ban gunpowder—and by that I mean all high explosives, nitro, dynamite and even the atom bomb. The evil lies in the man and what use he makes of it. Gunpowder gives a lot of pleasure to a lot of people who use it for shooting. Also it is very important in our industrial mining enterprises so we do not ban it.
What was interesting was that when President Reagan came out of hospital after he had been shot, a member of the press asked him whether or not he would tighten the control on firearms as a result of being shot. His answer was very interesting; it was one which I would commend all chief constables and senior police officers in this country to study. He said: "No. In the cities of New York and Washington we have the tightest gun controls of probably anywhere in the world and it did not prevent me being shot. What I suggest is that there should be a tightening up of the penalties and an increase in the penalties for the improper use of firearms." Here was the President of the United States saying that. This really comes back to free will and what use we make of it. We all agree to ban war.
This leads me on to the internal combustion engine. Although millions of people have been killed by gunpowder, I am told that almost as many, or if not more, have been killed by the internal combustion engine, and particularly the motor car. Most of the deaths and very serious injuries in a motor-car have been due to injuries to the head; in other words, brain damage. If we ban boxing for this reason, ought we not logically to ban the use of the motor-car? That would be absurd.
The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, touched on the way boxing works. There is a need to clean up boxing; here he has a very good point. There is a lot of money in boxing now, and particularly in the televising of boxing. Boxing is getting into the hands of a few men. I go to America often and I have many American friends. I do not think that one of them would disagree with me that boxing in America leaves much to be desired in that it is in the hands of the syndicate, and that indeed the Mafia have a finger in it.
The professional boxers whom I know in this country refer to something called the syndicate operating here. Boxing is in the hands of a few men, one or two of whom perhaps are too greedy. I know of one lightweight boxer, whose name I shall not mention, who was told—and I think I can quote the words:You remain a big fish in a little bowl, or you join me and go places—otherwise you stay where you are".He joined, and he did very well.
There are plenty of good fighters in this country. There is no need to bring over third-rate ones from America to build up a fighter to world standard, which he is not. Then we talk about a fighter having a glass jaw, because when he gets to the world title stage he has to get into the ring with someone who really is good, and he does not deserve to win. There are plenty of good fighters up in the North.
885 The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, referred to cock-fighting and said that it was abolished as an ignoble and horrible sport. I do not think that those were his exact words, but that was the effect of what he said. I may be wrong, but from what I have studied I gather that cockfighting was abolished because people gambled on it too much.
The British Boxing Board of Control probably does not exercise the control that it might do, and here your Lordships could perhaps consider some action. I do not want to go too much into this point, but I know that professional boxers past and present are not completely satisfied in this regard. They feel that perhaps the board does not realise to the exact extent which way boxing in England is now going.
I have known one or two boxers. It is a great sport. As they say themselves, it is a tremendous game. It has a tremendous thrill to it. When the heavyweight champion of the world climbs into the ring there is a magic about it which is equalled only by Derby Day and the Grand National. There is something to it, and I am proud to have shaken the hand of men such as Teddy Haynes, the ex-middleweight champion. They were great men in boxing and they were absolutely straight.
The Bill reminds me rather of a little paragraph in one of the early chapters of the autobiobraphy of the late Lord Montgomery of Alamein. He described how his mother used to say to one of his brothers or sisters:Go and see what Bernard is doing, and tell him to stop itThere is always someone trying to nibble away at the British heritage. I for one will have no part of it. I ask your Lordships to support our national way of life and our national sports.
§ 5.23 p.m.
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, I believe that Sir Winston Churchill was once asked which side he was on in the Spanish Civil War, and he replied, "Both sides". I can imagine that anyone coming fresh to the debate this afternoon and listening to the arguments so cogently put, might feel to be in that position. But in my mind I come down, at any rate at this stage—the Second Reading; I suppose that there might be amendments later—on the side of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, who moved the Second Reading of the Bill so eloquently and with such deep feeling. I thought that he rather overstated his case, though he did not overstate it half as much as the noble Lord, Lord Morris, overstated his case. The argument that we could not have amateur without professional boxing is to me fantastic. We do not say that about any other sport, and so I am afraid that I dismiss that particular argument.
However, leaving that aside for the moment, I must say that when the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, implied that at rugger violence was forbidden by the referee I felt that he could not watch a great deal of rugger. Obviously rugger is a violent sport. So is even the form of football practised at the school which the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, and I attended. He was very much better than I at it, and therefore more violent, but at any rate no one pretended 886 that he suffered brain damage, or even perhaps that I did—
§ The Earl of Longford
I think that it was the noble Lord, Lord Hailsham, but I had better be careful about that; but the Duke of Montrose actually bit him at the Eton Ball game. I remember that that was mentioned in a debate on Rhodesia; it was supopsed to prove some important point one way or the other. At any rate these contact sports are violent, and I am certainly not even going to begin to discuss the question of banning them.
However, let us agree that the noble Lord brought out two aspects of the horrors of the lives of many professional boxers, and he spoke with great respect of the young boxing champion whom he mentioned. He pointed out that many people suffer brain damage if they continue in the sport as a vocation and that horrible passions are aroused. I am perfectly ready to agree, though I do not go to see many boxing matches now. I used to go to see them when I was young. But sometimes I see them on television, and I must admit that the audience are not a pretty sight. So I am entirely with the noble Lord on that aspect. I am inclined, so to speak, to remove the occasion of sin from these audiences.
Therefore at this stage I agree that we should try to ban this kind of commercial boxing. If people are to be paid, the money has to come from somewhere, presumably out of the pocket of the public. At this stage I am with the noble Lord. The noble Lord was quite careful, but I am not sure that he was careful enough, and I must say that some of the things that he said would reflect on boxing generally. I cannot agree that boxing at school is in itself more dangerous than, say, rugger, or even the school game played by the noble Lord, Lord Home, and myself. So if we are not going to ban violent games at school altogether, I do not think we should ban boxing.
I quite agree that some boys dislike boxing. But of course many boys dislike football, and perhaps nowadays at schools they are excused—rightly excused, I think—from it. If a parent says that his son does not fancy being knocked about in any shape or form, the boy should be excused. There is much more liberty of that kind nowadays than there used to be, and that is all to the good. But I do not think that so far as boys are concerned boxing is in any special category as compared with football. However, when we come to the professional sport, bearing in mind the evil passions that can be aroused in the audience and the damage done, which might last a lifetime, then at any rate at this stage I go along with the noble Lord.
§ 5.28 p.m.
§ Lord Noel-Baker
My Lords, I want to support my noble friend Lord Taylor of Gryfe and to thank him for what I thought was a very remarkable speech which he made this afternoon. I find it difficult to believe that any noble Lord would not be converted in favour of the Bill by what my noble friend said. I have taken part in many sports, including two which 887 require physical courage of a kind and physical endurance, and which perhaps involve danger. I took part in track athletics for many years, and I engaged in mountaineering until I was 79. At the age of 79 I was twice over 14,000 feet in Switzerland. I have done a great deal of mountaineering.
I have had many friends who have been amateur boxers, and I have watched much amateur boxing in the Olympic Games. I confess that I experienced a feeling of genuine jubilation when I saw a British boxer, with extreme skill, defeat a Russian opponent, who was much larger and looked much stronger than the British boxer, in the final of an Olympic contest. I remember that the founder of the Olympic Games, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who I regard as one of the great statesmen of the century, with a record of success in his work achieved by few statesmen in any realm of human activity, was ardently in favour of boxing and boxed himself until he was over 50.
I confess that I have often had doubts about amateur boxing. I am not sure. While at a school, no doubt, it is open to very little objection and there is much to be said in its favour, some amateur boxing can in my view involve danger of an unacceptable kind. But if I am a little ambivalent about amateur boxing I am not ambivalent at all about professional boxing. When I was in another place there was a man, a constitutent who became a close friend, who had himself been a rather eminent professional boxer. With his earnings he bought a public-house, which he kept and managed himself. He insisted, as our freindship developed, on taking me to witness professional boxing—big fights, as he called them—from a ringside seat. I could not disguise from him that I disliked the whole thing. I disliked the fight and I disliked the attitude and emotions of the crowd. It seemed to me to arouse a feeling of sadism among the spectators. I am perfectly certain that that very frequently happens, and that it is a most undesirable phenomenon. I believe there is everything to be said against professional boxing. I believe it is a social abuse, and I hope we shall follow Sweden and Norway in banning it here.
§ Lord Hunt of Fawley
My Lords, I just want to add a very few words about punch-drunkenness, which is a terrible affliction. It can come on many years after a person's boxing career is over; it does not need a number of knock-outs—a number of small injuries can produce it—and it is a terrible affliction to have in your family. It is a sort of pre-senile dementia: you lose your memory, you lose your sense. I myself would do anything to prevent even the dozen cases of punch-drunkenness that now occur.
§ 5.34 p.m.
§ Lord Shinwell
My Lords, I apologise for my intervention but my reason for not putting my name on the list is because I doubted very much when I read about the possibility of this debate whether there would be any interest displayed by Members of your Lordships' House. Another reason why I failed to intervene in that fashion is because I have to declare 888 an interest. I happen to be the President of the London Branch of the World Sporting Club. I have been so for many years, and my predecessor was a Member of your Lordships' House—the Earl of Derby. In all my experience of that club, I have never witnessed anything which was improper. I have never observed that in the course of the contests no medical assistance was available; there was always a doctor there in case he was required to render some assistance.
I declare another interest, and that is that I happen to be an honorary member of the Brighton Branch and also the London Branch of the Ex-Boxers Association. I am bound to say, having attended some of their functions and looked at some of the older people who were also attending, there was hardly a sign that they had ever been involved in a contest. Certainly they were the most amiable, delightful and civilised people I have ever met—as civilised as anybody in your Lordships' House. That reminds me that British boxers of the past, going back to the days of Dutch Sam, Mendoza and the various prize-fighters who fought with bare knuckles instead of using gloves, were invariably supported by Members of your Lordships' House. It was the aristocracy of Britain which supported them and attended those illegal contests which took place in various parts of the country despite the surveillance of the police.
I only want to take advantage of a three-minute round—I have already occupied two minutes, so I have not much time—before we have a technical knock-out, as I hope will happen at the end of this debate. I was unable to hear much of the speech of my noble friend Lord Taylor of Gryfe. I was not present at the beginning, and when I came in I had not something available so that I could hear more easily, but I wish he had devoted his efforts on this occasion to trying to deal with preventing this monopoly which exists at present in professional boxing. There are too few people operating, and undoubtedly they are in the business to make a profit. I am not afraid to say this. I am not afraid of them anyhow; they cannot hurt me, and they had better not try. I cannot understand why Lord Taylor of Gryfe should bother about their making a profit. He is connected with various businesses, and I am quite satisfied that he does not mind making a profit now and again. There is nothing wrong with profit; I like a little myself sometimes.
Let us try to understand this. Occasionally there is something improper in professional boxing. There is something quite improper sometimes in amateur boxing—and here I would say this. Of the two, I prefer professional boxing, because if a man is to go into the ring he must seek to acquire some skill in the business. After all, it is skill that counts more often than hard punching, though hard punching nowadays, I have observed, does carry an opponent out of the contest quite easily. But amateur boxing is sometimes conducted in a fashion which savours of professionalism, and I do not care for that at all. If we are going to have amateurism, let it be honest amateurism and make no bones about it.
As regards the effects on the professional boxer, of course there are Members of your Lordships' House who can quote instances where somebody has suffered or somebody has died because of boxing, or has 889 suffered brain damage. I accept that at once. But that applies to professional wrestling. I wonder whether Members of your Lordships' House ever watch professional wrestling on Saturday afternoons. How horrible it is, how brutal it is, how bestial it is!
§ Lord Shinwell
One becomes furious—so furious that one would like to go in and punch them on the jaw and settle the matter; a real knock-out. The same applies to motorcar racing; and with great respect to my noble friend Lord Noel-Baker, who was once a famous half-miler (although I have observed that ever since he has always come late for a meeting; he always came 10 minutes late, and I used to direct his attention to it; I never could understand how he had won the half-mile when he was younger) I am bound to say that even in sprinting or in hurdling, as we have observed many times in Olympic and other contests, accidents occur—of course they do. I remember an incident at a boxing contest in Dunfermline in Scotland many years ago. It was a contest of 10 three-minute rounds. One of the contestants did not turn up so that they had to get somebody to take his place. Someone in the audience offered his services. He was a rather stout, portly, pot-bellied man and he said that he was ready to fight anybody and had done some fighting in his time. So he appeared in the ring. He did not last for very long. The other fellow knocked him down at once and he lay on the floor, completely knocked out. They had to get an ambulance to take him away and someone in the audience, looking at him on the floor, ugly, grotesque, said, "Well, if he is going to hospital, take him to the maternity hospital".
That is how to deal with this subject and I suggest that there ought to be a technical knock-out—not wholly to the disadvantage of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe. But he has had his say, as have others. I hope that the noble Earl, Lord Avon, who looks like a professional boxer, will not indulge in any knock-outs this evening, but will say that the Government have lots of other business to deal with. There is unemployment—shall I go on?—and the rates are going up. Shall I go on? Let us have no politics in this business, just commonsense; and let us have that technical knock-out.
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ The Earl of Avon
My Lords, after that round of seven minutes I feel slightly punch drunk myself. I think I ought to start by saying what is the purpose of this Bill. It is to stop any boxing match, either professional or amateur, from being arranged for profit. That would include charitable or sponsorship events for profit. Some noble Lords were slightly awry in their descriptions. Another thing I noted is that my noble friend Lord Belhaven and Stenton twice mentioned a five-minute round. In fact, no round ever goes more than three minutes, I understand.
The effect of this one-clause Bill on boxing could be catastrophic and its effect on other sports could equally be enormous. We have all listened with great interest to what the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, has said and I appreciate, as, I am sure, does the 890 House, the deep commitment which lies behind his thinking. I do not think that any of us would have thought his presentation in any way inadequate. I found it extremely comprehensive. However, I believe that we should be reminded of the consequences that this type of legislation would engender.
The democratic society that we all believe in and applaud gives an individual the fundamental right to choose the sport in which he wishes to participate. By legislating against one particular sport, we would withdraw that right. This Government, indeed successive Governments, have never considered such measures, whether individuals compete against each other, in sport, for payment, for charitable purposes or under the promotion or sponsorship of a third party. The Government believe that to do so would be a step in the wrong direction. The noble art (if I may so call it in this House) of boxing has long been a recognised, worthy, sport in the United Kingdom. I use the word "sport" intentionally because the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, played a little too much, I thought. on the word "violence". This should be a sport where skill and self-defence are part of the training. The noble Earl, Lord Longford, said that the audiences in this sport were not a pretty sight. I wonder at what sport audiences are a particularly pretty sight. But the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, then corrected me slightly, because, obviously in his club, the audience would be an extremely pretty sight.
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, I attended the noble Lord's club. I found the atmosphere there specially civilised. The referee stopped the fight as soon as it got brutal. It must have been due to the influence of the noble Lord.
§ The Earl of Avon
My Lords, I take the noble Earl's point, but I think he was talking also about audiences generally. I should like to refer to audiences generally in all sport and I do not think there are any that are particularly nice except, perhaps, the Royal Box at Wimbledon which is always very attractive.
The original "Queensbury Rules" first formulated in 1867 are the basis upon which boxing is practised by both professionals and amateurs. It is here that I believe the medical profession has played such a major part in formulating a medical discipline within those rules which all boxers must satisfy before they are licensed to take part in a boxing match. As many noble Lords mentioned the risk values, I should like to say a few words on that. I acknowledge that it is the personal injury to individuals that is of most concern to those who object to boxing as a sport. What I believe we must accept is that those entering the boxing arena do so in the full knowledge that an injury may occur, Individuals enter boxing from their own interest in the sport, but, having elected to do so, they are subject to the most stringent medical discipline before they are allowed to compete. Having been licensed, following a full medical examination, to compete in either professional or amateur boxing, a person's medical welfare is carefully monitored. Indeed, a recent requirement in the professional arena, where matches are over a longer duration, is that when an individual applies for a licence his medical examination 891 form must include a skull X-ray with a full report accompanying such an X-ray.
Much has been said in the press about a brain scan. It is the considered opinion of the chief medical officer of the British Boxing Board of Control, a man highly respected in his profession, that the value of a brain scan is in establishing the diagnosis of acute or chronic intracerebral damage, and is already used in this context in professional boxing. It is of little if any value in anticipating when such damage would or could occur. I would not profess to understand the intricacies of such medical science, but I believe we must acknowledge the opinion of a person so highly respected in his profession.
The medical welfare of any person is a matter of concern for us all, whatever way of life is chosen. Boxing administrators at both amateur and professional level are as aware of this basic requirement of human understanding as any other governing body of sport. Their medical regulations are consistently reviewed to ensure, so far as is practicable, that injury can be detected, treated and cured if such injury is sustained. More importantly their regulations are so framed that a person who is not physically capable cannot partake in the sport. Such regulations have caused disappointment to a number of young boxing hopefuls who, because of some minor defect in their fitness, have been refused permission to participate.
I hope that, albeit briefly, I have allayed some of the fears concerning the medical welfare of those who wish to enter the sport of boxing. The many other sports that were mentioned today—mountaineering, rugby, motor sport, horse racing and various aviational activities—all contain a considerable degree of personal risk. There have been some personal reminiscences. As someone who has always played cricket, I always told all the oarsmen in my house that the most dangerous thing to do was to row because it strains the heart. We can all argue against the sport that we do not particularly like.
As I say, like all these sports boxing is supported by the personal decision of an individual to participate. The Bill before the House today could, if enacted, be taken as a precedent by others to seek to control sports similar to those I have mentioned. This Government cannot support proposals which impinge so drastically on the individual freedom of our citizens to compete against each other in the sport of their choice and therefore could not support the Bill as legislation.
§ 5.49 p.m.
§ Lord Taylor of Gryfe
My Lords. I do not wish to detain the House in replying to the debate, but I should like to say a word in connection with the statement of the Government. With regard to the purpose of the Bill, it is not the intention of the Bill, as I made abundantly clear in my speech, that amateur boxing should be prohibited. This is a Bill designed to prohibit professional boxing, and if there is any doubt in the wording or the terms of the Bill in distinguishing amateur from professional boxing, that can be amended and made clear at the Committee stage. Therefore, today's debate on the Second Reading is about the prohibition of professional boxing.
892 The noble Earl, Lord Avon, said that the effect of this on other sports would be enormous. I am not sure that that is so. In my opening speech I tried to distinguish between boxing and other sports. The distinction is quite simple: boxing is designed for one person to knock another person unconscious and inflict injury. There is no other sport where that is the basic purpose of the exercise. To that extent it is quite distinct from rugby football, mountaineering and the other sports that were mentioned—
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, as one of the noble Lord's supporters, I hope he will not press that point unduly because an ordinary boxing match is decided on points. So I think that idea of knocking another person out is very rare in amateur boxing.
§ Lord Taylor of Gryfe
My Lords, an ordinary boxing match is not always decided on points. I quoted the spectacle the other night in Wembley Stadium of a man who—I forget the actual phrase—inflicted brutality and punishment on a man in the 9th or 10th round and knocked him out. That is the history of boxing: and the victims of that are people who are wandering about poor, wandering about punch-drunk, mumbling and blind. That is the difference between boxing and some of the other sports that were mentioned. That should be kept in mind.
We take deliberate decisions in this House when we weigh the liberty of the individual against the total interests of society, and we pass laws accordingly. We did so years ago in relation to cockfighting. Why did we do that in this country? Because we believed it was a brutalising and demoralising thing for people to foregather in crowds and cheer and applaud two animals inflicting damage and death on each other. We are very sensitive in this House about danger and suffering to animals, and I suggest that we should show the same sensitivity when we are talking about a sport which organises two people to enter a ring for the express purpose of inflicting damage on a fellow human being.
The professional sport does not depend on two people going into a ring in privacy to do that. It depends on organising a great spectacle and bringing it into millions of homes, because the TV fees are important to sustain it. Does anyone believe that these sights that we see in the boxing ring do not reduce our sensitivity to violence? I believe they do, and for that reason we build into the IBA and BBC laws restrictions on the amount of violence that is to be shown. Why do we do that? Because we believe that the sight of violence and the continual exposure to violence of people in their homes reduces their sensitivity to violence and has a brutalising effect. It is for that reason that I suggest that boxing is rather different from the other sports that were enumerated by noble Lords opposite.
The noble Lord, Lord Morris, made a great play with the word "tawdry". I have tried to look it up in the dictionary in reference to this debate. I believe that what is tawdry is offering young working-class people, and now the blacks, the opportunity of escaping by this route quickly out of poverty by a public spectacle—fighting with one another in the ring to the plaudits of thousands. At the end of the day they 893 suffer and frequently end up in the poverty they hoped to escape from. That is tawdry, and I do not believe the word can be applied to any Bill which is designed as this Bill is, for the three reasons that I quoted at the outset.
First the perpetration of violence is evil in itself, and anything which encourages it or glorifies it damages the fabric of our society. Secondly, as to the results of boxing, there is evidence here, and the noble Earl, Lord Avon, quoted some of it, but if I may say so he ought to have gone to a much more objective source. He quotes simply in support of his case the medical officer of the British Boxing Board of Control. I appreciate that steps are taken by the board to minimise damage, but the damage is frequently done before the referee's intervention on medical examination between the rounds. He might have gone to the Royal College of Surgeons, for example, or to any of the objective authorities on this subject to get his evidence—it is there in abundance—that boxing does disturb the brain and frequently results in blindness and damage to the eyes.
Finally, this is not a tawdry Bill: neither is it an attempt to interfere with the freedom of the individual in any cheeseparing way. This is a Bill that says that we in a democratic society stand for certain moral values, and it is not within our category of moral values to organise for public spectacle a boxing match in which one human being seeks to knock another unconscious. I cannot find it in my Christian conscience to believe that it is part of a Christian society. It encourages the wrong motives, and for that reason this House will not be diminishing itself if it accords this Bill a Second Reading. It will have shown a respect for civilised standards and done something of which we can be proud. For that reason, I beg to commend that the Bill he now read a second time.
§ 5.57 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the Bill shall now be read 2a?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 47; Not-Contents, 77.894
|DIVISION NO. 1|
|Amherst, E.||Jenkins of Putney, L.|
|Amulree, L.||Kennet, L.|
|Aylestone, L.||Killearn, L.|
|Banks, L.||Lawrence, L.|
|Bathurst, E.||Longford, E.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||McCarthy, L.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L. [Teller.]||McGregor of Durris, L.|
|Blease, L.||Noel-Baker, L.|
|Boothby, L.||Ogmore, L.|
|Brockway, L.||Phillips, B.|
|Byers, L.||Rathcreedan, L.|
|Caccia, L.||St. Davids, V.|
|Collison, L.||Seear, B.|
|Cooper of Stockton Heath, L.||Simon, V.|
|Craigavon, V.||Stedman, B.|
|Crowther-Hunt, L.||Stone, L.|
|David, B.||Swansea, L.|
|Diamond, L.||Taylor of Gryfe, L. [Teller.]|
|Fisher of Rednal, B.|
|Gladwyn, L.||Vernon, L.|
|Hampton, L.||Wilson of Langside, L.|
|Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Wootton of Abinger, B.|
|Hunt of Fawley, L.||Wynne-Jones, L.|
|Ailesbury, M.||Hylton-Foster, B.|
|Airey of Abingdon, B.||Lane-Fox, B.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Lindsey and Abingdon, E.|
|Alport, L.||Long, V.|
|Ardwick, L.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.|
|Avon, E.||Lyell, L.|
|Belstead, L.||McAlpine of Moffat, L.|
|Bishopston, L.||McFadzean, L.|
|Bledisloe, V.||Mancroft, L.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Marley, L.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Mersey, V.|
|Cockfleld, L.||Molloy, L.|
|Colville of Culross, V.||Monson, L.|
|Colwyn, L.||Morris, L. [Teller.]|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Northchurch, B.|
|Cowley, E.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Craigmyle, L.||Nunburnholme, L.|
|Croft, L.||Orkney, E.|
|Cudlipp, L.||Peart, L.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Pender, L.|
|Daventry, V.||Rankeillour, L.|
|de Clifford, L. [Teller.]||Robbins, L.|
|Denham, L.||Sandys, L.|
|Dilhorne, V.||Shannon, E.|
|Eccles, V.||Shinwell, L.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Elton, L.||Spens, L.|
|Faithfull, B.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Falkland, V.||Strathspey, L.|
|Fortescue, E.||Terrington, L.|
|Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Thomas of Swynnerton, L.|
|Gainford, L.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Gormanston, V.||Vaizey, L.|
|Grey, E.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Gridlev, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Henley, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Hill of Luton, L.||Westbury, L.|
|Holderness, L.||Willoughby de Broke, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and Motion for Second Reading disagreed to accordingly.